3 Easy and Delicious Ways to Preserve Your Berry Harvest

Berry season is beginning in Oregon. Strawberries ripen first, and they're followed quickly by raspberries, blueberries, currants, and blackberries! While these berries are ripe in your area, prices can be so low (especially if you pick them yourself) that you'll want to stock up.

But what should you do with all of that fresh fruit? Here are three techniques to make those berries do double duty (now and later). These methods are so easy that it's just silly not to use them.

Freeze the berries whole
The secret to freezing berries whole is to freeze them first and then pack them. Find a cookie sheet that will fit in your freezer. Line it with waxed paper, and load it with clean, de-stemmed berries in a single layer, spacing them so they're not touching. Freeze until solid (an hour or two), and then pack into freezer container or Ziploc bags.

Doing this will prevent the berries from clumping together and forming a solid mass, which will allow you to use just the amount you want without thawing them all. You can usually get away with skipping this step with blueberries; they have a natural waxy layer than helps keep them separate.

Whole berries from the freezer are perfect for making smoothies. Don't thaw them — they'll function sort of like berry-ice cubes to chill the smoothies as they flavor them. I like to combine lowfat vanilla yogurt, over-ripe bananas, frozen berries, and a bit of fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Thawed, whole berries make wonderful cobblers and crisps. I freeze some bags intended for “mixed berry cobbler”. As different berries ripen over the season, I freeze them and add a bit of each kind to the bag, creating a mixture of berries that is ready to thaw and bake. I generally don't sweeten mine as I freeze them, but if you know you'll be adding sugar for a particular recipe later on, you can add it now. The sugar helps the berries survive the cold storage.

Purée and freeze
Berry purée is wonderful drizzled over vanilla ice cream or other desserts such as cheesecake, poundcake, or angel food cake. But my favorite use for purée is to make thirst-quenching berry lemonade. I prefer not to mix berries for this, as I like the unique flavor of each. For each 12 ounces of frozen lemonade concentrate, you'll need about 2 cups of berry purée — plus sweetener and/or lemon juice to suit your taste.

With your blender, simply purée the berries (use strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries), pour into a Tupperware (or reuse large yogurt containers), and freeze. With strawberries, I like to leave it a bit chunky. With seedy berries like raspberries or blackberries, I purée it and pass it through a sieve to remove the seeds before freezing.

When you're ready to make the berry lemonade, simply mix the lemonade concentrate, the amount of water called for in the package directions, and two cups of berry purée (completely thawed, or partially thawed to a slush). Stir and taste. You may want to add a bit more sweetener (or fresh lemon juice if you like things really tart). Serves about 6. This mixture also makes great popsicles! You can also freeze the berry purée in ice cube trays and just add a bit at a time to drinks over the summer.

Strawberry Bowl
Our strawberry plants started producing early this year!

 

Make freezer jam
Some people (like J.D.) prefer freezer jam to cooked jam. It often has a softer texture, brighter color and fresher taste. And because it's frozen, there are never any worries about whether it's been safely canned.

In addition, you can make freezer jam with little investment in equipment. If you have the freezer space, it's well-worth making the small effort it requires to whip up a batch. I try to make enough to last us 'till the next year's berry crop.

Simply follow the directions on a package of pectin, or do a Google search for “berry freezer jam recipe“. Making freezer jam is extremely simple, and can take less than half an hour! Just be sure to stir your jam until the sugar is fully dissolved, or the crystals will give it a grainy texture.

On a nippy winter morning, toast and homemade jam are a treat! Because of its soft consistency, you can also try zapping the thawed jam in the microwave for a bit and then pour it over pancakes, waffles, or thick French toast. Yum! You might even get hooked on freezer jam and decide to delve into other fruits later in the season. Stone fruits such as apricots, peaches, and nectarines lend themselves well to this technique.

No matter what's ripening in your neck of the woods, try to preserve some food while prices are low. Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season is like finding a sale on produce. And purchasing locally-grown foods when you can helps nearby farmers, too. But the best reason is the taste: food allowed to ripen fully before it is picked just tastes better, so get out there and pick some today — then load your freezer with summer's bounty.

Smoothie photo by Dannynic. Berry photo by J.D.

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Becky
Becky

Are those your own berries? They look beautiful!

J.D.
J.D.

Yes, Becky, those our berries from our yard. It’s Saturday morning and I’m preparing to go to my marathon training run. Before I left however, I just went outside and picked more berries. Another 710g! It’s a good harvest this year, though the blossoms seem to be waning already…

The Broody Bunch
The Broody Bunch

RE: Smoothies – I often add some cottage cheese (small curd) and a teaspoon or so of Olive Oil when making smoothies. If you have a good blender, you really don’t notice the cottage cheese, and the olive oil gives you a bit of the of the good fats your body needs. 🙂

Janine
Janine

Another idea for making jam: I prepare the fruit and then just freeze it instead of making jam on a hot summer day. When I am running out of jam in the fall or winter I thaw a package of the strawberries and quickly make a batch of jam. It seems much more pleasant on a cold winter day and it takes about 15-20 minutes. My batches are small enough that I just refrigerate all the jars of jam and we use them up in a timely manner. I mark the freezer bag with the amounts of prepared strawberries and… Read more »

Lynette
Lynette

We live in Brookings, SW Oregon. It appears it will be a good berry harvest here this year also. There are so many wild blackberry vines with tons of flowers, I hope I can get to them before the birds. This year I’m going to try to make Elderberry wine. We have hundreds of these bushes on our property and, again, hopefully I can get to them before the birds.

Brigid
Brigid

I was watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats the other day and he had a different method for freezing strawberries. When you freeze berries in a standard freezer, they cool down slowly. This makes for long, jagged ice shards to form in the cells of the fruit. As they thaw, the juice breaks out and you end up with a strawberry soup. If you are using the frozen berries for nothing more than smoothies and the like – no problem. If you want to retain their original solid nature, they need to be frozen quickly. To do this, use dry ice.… Read more »

Sandy E.
Sandy E.

I buy boysenberry preserves, blueberry preserves and strawberry preserves at the grocery store (fruit is chunkier than the fruit in jams), and wow is it good! Not just on toast though. I put a spoonful into a container of plain, nonfat yogurt, and mix about 50x and the yogurt is great! The spoonful of preserves changes the color completely and the flavor is awesome. Once I started doing this, I could never go back to buying flavored yogurts again. Now I buy the large size container of plain yogurt and dole out the portion I want in a bowl, add… Read more »

MJ
MJ

Another tip to keep your berries from sticking together into a clump when frozen. Don’t wash them before you freeze them. Just wash the frozen berries before you use them. Works like a charm. Also salmonberries are beginning to ripen where I am (Olympia, WA) so keep an eye out.

SeekingLemonade
SeekingLemonade

This is making me salivate!

Cara
Cara

Those berries look positively scrumptious. Have you ever made rumtopf? As different berries come into season, place some in a jar with sugar and cover with rum. After they steep for a few months, they become a perfect topping for ice cream or pound cake, and the liquid is delicious to sip on its own or in a spritzer.

Lawrence
Lawrence

For a decadent smoothie treat, try combining a cup of evaporated milk with a cup of vanilla ice cream, a cup of berries and some caster sugar. Blend until smooth and garnish with some berry puree. Delicious!

Christyna
Christyna

Great post! I could have used this two weeks ago. Here in Houston, our berry season is about over. The hurricane damaged the blackberry, blueberry, and dewberry bushes, so we had a small crop but delicious.

I often put half an avocado and a T of peanut butter or tahini in my smoothies. This adds a thick, creamy protein component to my breakfast smoothie.

Thanks again! Have a great garden day.

Beth
Beth

I’m a big fan of the freezing. I use the same method for sliced peaches and grapes too. (So yummy in those hot summer months!) I don’t like melon, but I’ve heard you can freeze chunks of it too. I’ve found that you have to use the fruit up within a reasonable amount of time otherwise it will get freezer burn 🙁

I’ve never made puree or freezer jam before, but these options are totally do-able for my apartment life. Thanks for sharing these ideas!

Bob
Bob

My favorite is to make wine. It’s easy, and it’s a nice reminder of summer when the berries are long gone…

DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad

I am jealous!

Linda in Chicago
Linda in Chicago

Homemade jams are great, but often call for LOTS of sugar because standard pectin products require the sugar in order to gel. I make low sugar or honey-sweetened strawberry freezer jam using Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which does NOT require so much sugar. Freezer jam is more runny than cooked jam, but it tastes so much better! This year, I was thinking of just freezing the berries and making jam later in the year.

Chiot's Run
Chiot's Run

We’ve been harvesting berries from our patch as will, it’s our first year. We put in the plants last year and dutifully pinched off all of the blossoms for a nice harvest this year. check out our harvests: http://chiotsrun.com/2009/06/10/picking-strawberries/ We generally freeze our berried whole and then I make jams & jellies in the winter. I figure I’d rather heat up the house with canning in the winter than in the summer. Not to mention the gardening keeps me busy this time of year. We’ve been eating most of our berries in shortcakes or crisps. You actually don’t need to… Read more »

Joanne of Open Mind Required
Joanne of Open Mind Required

When I lived in California, a pint of organic blackberries cost about $3.99. Then I bought a home in Oregon which was bordered by a creek alone which grew huge blackberry bushes. I had such a harvest the last year I lived there that I ended up freezing about 30 bags worth. They were SO good. I’m really going to miss free blackberries.

A.Marie
A.Marie

Hi! I was over at Modern Tightwad, and clicked on a link that brought me here! Great Blog and what an awesome post on freezing berries! I love the idea of freezing them on a cookie sheet, and I am definitely going to try that. Our town’s small grocer has strawberries for sale at .99/lb; I am stocking up on some of them (to add to my stash of berries that I got from my own garden) and I am going to make some of that yummy freezer jam that you blogged about! 🙂

Elizabeth
Elizabeth

Just made my first batch of freezer jam with fresh berries this week. So simple and so tasty! I just bought the freezer jam pectin and it had the recipe on the box.

Thanks for the idea, Kris!

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